This was one acid attack which Pankaj Shirsat would remember for some time to come. While it didn’t ruin an innocent life, it did enough to tarnish the image of not one, but three individuals, two of whom are champion athletes.
It all started with a burp that Shirsat, Asian Games kabaddi champion, felt compelled to let out while appearing for an internal exam for the post of deputy superintendent (DSP) in Maharashtra police. And it was this sudden acid attack that eventually led the invigilator to not only cancel his paper for cheating, but also that of Commonwealth Games gold medal winning wrestler Narsingh Yadav and another candidate.
Soon after Yadav’s CWG success and selection to the Olympic team, the Maharashtra government had passed an order which said noted sportspersons would be offered Class 1 officer-level jobs with the state government. Shirsat and Yadav had hoped to benefit from the scheme but wouldn’t have anticipated that a stern written test was waiting for them at the end of their two-year probation for a DSP’s post.
So June 17 found Shirsat and Yadav at the state police academy in Nasik. While Shirsat was occupying table No.30, Narsingh was one seat behind him in the exam hall. With a few minutes left for the end of the exam, another candidate, Sudhir Kiradkar, decided to help Yadav and allegedly passed his paper to him.
“Shirsat had an acidity attack towards the end of the exam. He turned across to rub his back with his hand and burped. The invigilator thought he was turning around to cheat and caught him, asking both him and Yadav to stand up, accusing them of chatting.
While Shirsat was pleading with him, the invigilator walked towards the two and found Kiradkar’s paper in the wrestler’s possession, a source close to one of the athletes, who was present in the exam hall, said.
WRACKED BY GUILT
All three were barred from the exam. Since then, Shirsat has been wracked by guilt.
“He feels bad that he drew attention to the grappler, who got into trouble. He (Yadav) has been away training and fighting to bring glory to the country, where will he get time to study? His job is winning medals for India,” the source added. On the night of June 17 the duo was told that an investigation would be launched and on June 30 they received letters which stated that disciplinary action would be taken against them.
The athletes then got in touch with state home minister RR Patil who showed leniency towards them and both were allowed to return to their postings — Yadav at Panvel SP office and Shirsat to Kolhapur. Following his Commonwealth Games gold medal, Yadav was invited by the Maharashtra government to join its ranks.
“I was offered jobs by the Maharashtra and Haryana governments. Being a Mumbaikar, I picked Maharashtra. I have got this job from doing well as a wrestler and not because of academics,” Yadav retorted. His coach Jagmal Singh did not deny that his ward was caught cheating in the departmental exam but insisted the issue was sorted then and there.
“In fact, he has been reporting at the SP office in Thane district for the last three days. I finish his training at six in the morning after which he leaves for th” office,” Jagmal said. Shirsat was at the kabaddi camp as national selector when the news broke. He could not be reached for a comment.